It is this right that has underpinned the progressive
expansion of South Africa’s social protection system over
the past three decades.
In 1999 just over 2.5 million people were receiving social grants. Today that number has increased to over 18 million people.
In addition, more than two million indigent households
also receive free basic water, basic electricity and solid
waste removal services as part of this government’s
commitment to free basic services for the poor.
Expanding the social wage is not simply an indication
that more people need grants today than before, as some
have tried to suggest.
In the past, many of the poor, including working age
adults who are unemployed, simply did not receive any
The Social Relief of Distress Grant that was introduced in
2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic has
reached more than 11 million people at its peak, and has
lifted millions of people out of food poverty. According to
research approximately 50 per cent of the purchases
made by SRD grant recipients are groceries.
Social grants also act as a stimulus for the economy as a
whole, increase spending in townships and rural areas,
and improve employment outcomes.
Informal traders and SRD grant recipients in Philippi in
the Western Cape also told researchers that it had a
positive impact on their businesses.
According to another recent study by researchers at the
University of Cape Town the SRD grant also increased the
probability of recipients searching for jobs and gaining
Similarly, many participants in the Presidential
Employment Stimulus Initiative (PESI) have gone on to
find work after they have completed the programme. The
school assistants programme has provided opportunities
for 750,000 young people to date in over 22,000 schools,
reaching every corner of the country.
Over 72 per cent of participants in the PESI said that
having gained their first work experience, the programme
helped them to gain a foothold in the labour market
In all of these ways, South Africa’s world-renowned social
protection system provides important benefits for many
in our society, not only those who receive social grants.
It supports economic growth from the bottom up,
enables business activity, and strengthens social
solidarity and stability. It is one of the greatest
achievements of our democratic society, and one that we
should all be proud of.
The SRD alone represents a significant step in our
commitment to provide a minimum level of support
below which no South African should fall.
If the focus of our struggle for liberation was to end
apartheid and achieve political freedom, the focus of our
efforts now must be to address inequality and ensure that
every South African enjoys the fruits of democracy.
It is now well recognised that inequality constrains growth, and that growth which takes place in unequal societies tends to reproduce those patterns of inequality.
This is why our economic policy is guided by the need on
the one hand to implement structural reforms to
stimulate growth and enhance our economic
competitiveness, while on the other hand expanding
social protection and public employment and supporting
the social wage.
We cannot have one without the other, and we are
making steady progress on both.
In all of these ways, South Africa’s world-renowned social protection system provides important benefits for many in our society, not only those who receive social grants.
- President Cyril Ramaphosa